Flypaper

Editor's note: This testimony was presented at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions onFixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability on January, 21, 2015. It additionally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Next.

Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I would like to begin by congratulating the committee on putting the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act at the top of its legislative agenda for the 114th Congress. Nothing is more important to our nation’s future than ensuring that we provide all children with the opportunity to reach their full academic potential. Congress cannot do that on its own, but it can help by addressing the very real shortcomings of the most recent reauthorization, No Child Left Behind, and restoring the predictability with respect to federal policy that state and local officials need to carry out their work.

As you move forward with this important work, however, I would urge you not to lose sight of the positive aspects of No Child Left Behind. Above all, the law’s requirement that students be tested annually in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school has provided parents, teachers, and other citizens with detailed information about students’ performance in these foundational subjects – and therefore the extent to which they have mastered skills that are prerequisites for other educational goals. This information has called...

UNSTATED
President Obama’s State of the Union address last night was a brassy, wide-ranging expression of liberalism (it also answered the prayers of listeners nationwide by lasting less than an hour). But nowhere in the speech did the president broach the topic of testing and No Child Left Behind. A political move? Mike and Mike discuss.

SAME SPEECH, DIFFERENT CAPITOL
If last night’s excitement somehow didn’t sate your appetite for policy laundry lists translated into turgid, focus-grouped rhetoric, be sure to check out New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address in Albany tonight. The word is that Cuomo will use the occasion to lay out a pro-reform agenda that might include lifting the cap on New York City charter schools.

DEPARTMENT OF WOODEN SHOES
The Hechinger Report has a thoughtful look at education in the Netherlands, where an intriguing bargain has been struck between schools and the government: Children there spend a greater amount of time in class (some two-hundred days a year, or nearly a month more than the average school year in the United States), and in exchange, teachers and principals are granted far more authority over class size, curriculum, and every other conceivable detail of student life.

STUDENT-PRINCIPALING
Education Week’s Arianna Prothero offers a look at the much-feted KIPP principal-training program. The charter network’s Fisher Fellows are instructed in how to found and lead schools, with a special emphasis on the...

Arizona last week became the first state to make passing the U.S. Citizenship Test a high school graduation requirement. Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a bill mandating the test after the measure passed the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate in a single day. And that’s really about all the deliberation that should be needed for other states to follow Arizona’s lead. It’s a no-brainer in more ways than one.

Here are some of the questions on the test:

  • What are the first ten amendments to the Constitution called?
  • Name two rights in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Why do some states have more representatives than others?
  • Who is the governor of your state now?
  • How old do citizens have to be to vote for President?
  • Who is the President of the United States?

These are among 100 basic questions on American government and history published by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization service. It’s not particularly challenging stuff. Those seeking citizenship are asked up to ten of the questions; six correct is a passing score. Arizona students will need to get sixty of the hundred questions correct in order to graduate—the same ratio as immigrants to our country seeking citizenship.

It’s curious to note that the federal government—by law and tradition, and quite correctly—makes no curricular demands on its schools or knowledge demands on its native-born...

Editor's note: This editorial originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Austin American-Statesman.

At noon on Tuesday, January 13, the Texas Legislature convened its eighty-fourth legislative session. Like many previous legislative sessions, many hours of discussions will be devoted to improving Texas education. Like many previous legislative sessions, legislators will no doubt enact new state education policies aimed at improving Texas schools.

Despite massive new education policies from previous legislative sessions, and after decades of effort, tons of money, and volumes of educational punditry and political debate, we are left with relatively little to show for considerable effort. As we go forward with future education policies, it seems wise to pause and ask an important question. Why has so much previous education policy delivered such meager improvement?

Indisputably, that question has multiple answers. But one of the most critical answers is too often overlooked: Previous state education policy has been minimally integrated with education practice. Put another way, there has been, and there still is, a cavernous gap between education policy and education practice. In order for education policy to be an effective catalyst for improved school outcomes, it must influence education practice—and education practice is under the direct control of education practitioners. These practitioners have meager influence on education policy.

Previous state and federal education policy has ignored a cardinal truth: When schools improve, that improvement will be primarily due to the actions of people in the...

The word around town is that support for annual testing among rank-and-file members of Congress—in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle—is dangerously low. They are constantly hearing complaints from their constituents about the overuse and abuse of standardized tests, and many are eager to do something about it. We policy wonks may see the value in such tests (Brookings has been especially effective in making powerful arguments for keeping them), but parents and the public are fed up.

To be of service, here’s a crack at some “talking points” that members of Congress might use when the testing issue comes up at town hall meetings and the like. I strongly suspect that some of you can do much better. Give it a try! How would YOU explain to your fellow citizens the need for annual testing?

I understand that many of you feel strongly that there’s too much testing in our schools. You can’t throw a rock inside a school without hitting a standardized test; every time your son or daughter turns around, they are taking some test designed by some far away bureaucrat or testing company.

And you’re right. There is too much testing, and it’s taking time away from real learning—from art and music, from social studies and science, from time for play and exploration.

And there’s little doubt that all of this testing is stressing out our kids and our teachers.

Right...

THIRD-RATE ORATORY, FIRST-RATE FUN
President Obama’s annual State of the Union address will be held tonight, and while polarizing K–12 policy is likely to be absent, early childhood and higher education will get plenty of air time. On the docket for these two subjects: the president’s free community college proposal, along with an idea to streamline child-care tax benefits and incentives for families with young children. Be sure to hop on Twitter during your SOTU viewing party for a special edition of the EWA’s buzzword bingo.

RELAX, THEY WON'T REVOKE YOUR PASSPORT
Arizona will be the first state to require high school students to pass a civics test, the assessment that all candidates for U.S. citizenship must take. A poll found that 77 percent of responders support this new requirement. Before you decide on the wisdom of the policy, see if you can pass the test.

AND YOU THOUGHT LUTEFISK WAS BAD
While Scandinavian countries top global rankings in many education metrics, a new piece in the Washington Post suggests that they are not the utopias they are sometimes made out to be. It seems that even the “happiest countries on Earth” struggle with racial tension, a slowing economy, and high youth unemployment (to name just a few). What does this mean for education? For starters, we need to be realistic when looking to other countries as potential models. But as Chester E. Finn, Jr. and...

HOLD THE PHONE
The numbers are in: According to a new Quinnipiac Poll released today, 54 percent of New Yorkers support Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to lift the cell phone ban in the city’s schools. It’s a good reprieve for de Blasio in the court of public opinion; his approval rating, while positive overall, still lags under 50 percent (the territory usually deemed safe for incumbent politicians). Chancellor Carmen Farina’s popularity is lower still, at 39 percent. Maybe it has something to do with her apparent imperviousness to evidentiary analysis

IN THE LOOP
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has contributed a dose of common sense on testing that some of our national politicians would be well-advised to heed. Just a week after members of the State Board of Education voted (likely with no legal standing) to allow school districts to opt out of Common Core-aligned PARCC tests, the governor took time in his State of the State address to dissuade lawmakers from cutting annual assessments. “We need to confront the truth about whether Colorado’s kids are getting the education they need to compete and succeed in the job market,” he said. “But how do we know if we are getting the job done unless we accurately measure individual student growth?”

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL
Now that we’ve broached the topic of our beloved congressional leaders, here’s your semi-regular ESEA update: Education Week has conscientiously assembled a layman’s crib...

Though hardly the only issue to be debated during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act, annual testing has taken center stage in discussions so far. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate HELP committee, put forth a bill that leaves open the possibility of removing the federal requirement that states test students annually in reading and math from grades three through eight—a possibility that has thoroughly freaked out much of the education-reform community.

But as Alexander has explained, he is merely trying to respond to what he and every other member of Congress are hearing from their constituents: There’s too much damn testing in the schools.

But is that true? And if so, is it because of the federal requirements?

A new report from the Ohio Department of Education provides some timely answers, at least for one state. (A bellwether state, mind you.) State Superintendent Dick Ross charged his department with collecting information about the number of hours Buckeye State students spend preparing for and taking tests (not including tests developed by their own teachers). The findings are illuminating (most of this language is verbatim):

  • The average student spends approximately 19.8 hours taking tests each year. This is only 1-3 percent of the school year, depending on grade level. Kindergarten students spend the least amount of time on testing (11.3 hours on average), while grade-10 students spend the most (28.4 hours on average).
     
  • Students spend approximately 15 additional hours
  • ...
Cynthia G. Brown

Editor's note: This post appears in response to Michael J. Petrilli and Frederick M. Hess's earlier article.

I was appalled to read the attack of Jonah Edelman by my colleagues Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess for supposedly playing the “race card” on the ESEA reauthorization in his recent Daily Beast column. Hey guys, why the cheap shot? Jonah was citing historical facts that even today’s schoolchildren study. He talks mostly about groups of disadvantaged students, particularly those living in poverty, and uses the term “racism” once. And if you knew Jonah and each of his parents as I do, you would know that Jonah’s views have evolved way past his parents’ views from different times.

I won’t argue the strengths and weaknesses of NCLB. They both exist and are being vigorously debated. But to assert that states will do the right thing flies in the face of many current practices nationwide, not just history. How can Rick and Mike deny that most states have been insensitive to inequity in schooling and elsewhere? There is ample documentation that states choose to fund high-poverty schools at lesser rates than low-poverty schools, unlike most every other advanced country. Or that high-poverty schools have weaker teachers. And so on. And then there are other current state actions that reinforce disadvantages for undereducated and low-income people like the voter suppression actions being pursued in many states.

Maybe the federal government cannot do much in our grossly decentralized education governance system, but the...

DISTANCE MATTERS
What really matters most to parents when choosing a school for their child? A new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has found that factors such as distance, extended hours, and extracurricular offerings tend to outweigh a school’s academic record for many parents, particularly those lower on the income spectrum. What parents want out of schools is a topic worthy of further study.

MORE OIL, MORE PROBLEMS
While millions of Americans are currently enjoying the lowest oil prices they have seen in years, state-level petroeconomies like Alaska are experiencing huge revenue shortages. In these states, funding for K–12 and higher education will soon be feeling the crunch. With the added uncertainty regarding the duration of the oil price drop, state lawmakers will likely continue to budget frugally for the foreseeable future.

DOUBLETALK
New York City schools will open forty dual-language programs in September as part of new Chancellor Carmen Farina’s plan to immerse students in bilingualism and biculturalism. The classes will contain half English-language learners and half English-proficient students, who will receive instruction in both English and a targeted language such as Spanish or French.

GRADE-SPAN TESTING IS A BAD IDEA
The Center for American Progress and the AFT say that annual testing should be maintained to help better assess student outcomes, but should not be used for school-level accountability. For that purpose they recommend tests taken once per grade span. Many reformers, including...

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